With last words, man tells wife ‘swim’


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The wife of a man who died after going under the water in a northern Kent County lake said that in his final moments, he urged her to swim to safety.

Charles Cooley and his wife Deborah often spent their weekends on the water in the Chain Lakes in Oakfield Township, southwest of Greenville.

“We fished all summer long. We played bingo all winter long,” Deborah Cooley said.

Saturday started off much the same as many other fishing trips.

“We wasn’t that far from the bank,” Deborah Cooley said. “He stood up and the boat capsized.”

Charles Cooley's fishing boat in the Chain Lakes. (June 7, 2014)The pair was dumped into the water. Then, family members told 24 Hour News 8 Sunday, Cooley told his wife to head to shore.

“The last thing he said to her was, ‘Swim, Debbie, and don’t look back,'” Aberdean Chandler, Deborah Cooley’s mother, said.

“He begged me to swim. He pleaded with me,” Deborah Cooley said. “He said, ‘Deborah, swim.’ I told him to swim with me: ‘Please swim with me.’ And he just went down.”

“He wanted Debbie to make it. I think he was thinking of his grandkids: ‘One of us got to be here.’ He’s a living doll,” Chandler said.

Deborah Cooley made it to shore, but her husband did not. He was later recovered by emergency crews. They attempted CPR, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Family said Cooley knew how to swim.

“Why?” his mother Juanita Cooley wondered Sunday. “Why couldn’t he just hold on to the boat? Why couldn’t he just- We’ll never know.”

Charles was her youngest son.

“It was God’s will. He give him to me for 53 years, and I’m thankful for that,” Juanita Cooley said.

He was remembered Sunday for his smile, love of family and kindness toward others.

Deborah and Charles Cooley. (Undated courtesy photo)
(Deborah and Charles Cooley. Undated courtesy photo)

“He would help anybody,” Chandler said. “He’d get out of his bed and go help people. I love him. I’ll miss him.”

“Everybody in the family, if they needed something done, they would call Charles,” his sister Sheila Cooley said. “You don’t find men like that anymore.”

Before the boat tipped, Cooley spoke to his older brother Willie Cooley on the phone.

“I was blessed to hear him say ‘I love you,'” Willie Cooley said.

Deborah Cooley said she is trying to stay strong in the midst of the sudden loss, focusing on fond memories of her husband.

“He wants me to be strong for our kids and our grandkids,” she said. “He’s going to be truly missed.”

“It’s a solider gone home. I’ll see him again. I know I will,” Chandler said.

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